Reiner Schürmann: Anarchy as an End to Metaphysics. Preliminary observations. Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott



This is just a preliminary and very tentative first reaction to the work of Reiner Schürmann[1]. In what follows I shall attempt to do three different things. 1) A short presentation of the main lines worked by Schürmann’s confrontation with western philosophy. 2) A brief commentary on how Schürmann reads Heidegger and why this reading seems relevant today. 3) An interrogation related to our specific occasion or why reading Schürmann today could be a decisive intellectual initiative for us -and who is this “us” that seems so natural, anyway? Of course, the complexity and richness of Schürmann’s thinking could not be reduced to a single presentation, because what is at stake in it is not just a particular idea or system of ideas, concepts, formulations, hypotheses, but a reading of the whole philosophical tradition in order to make possible, even logical, his particular intervention. To read Schürmann is to read, through him, the western philosophical tradition and to punctuate this tradition, its history, according to his emphases.

I would say that here we already have a first problem: how the history of western philosophy, as the constant forgetting of being (and this is already an interpretation we have consented to even if not actively), reaches its own “realization” and how this realization allows us to ask again the question of being in a non-traditional way? Furthermore, how, in its most radical moment, the history of metaphysics opens itself, through its realization that is also its exhaustion (a withering away of principles), to being? In other words, what is the logic of this apparent paradox and what are its mechanisms? Do these mechanisms belong to reason and its strategies, critical practices, “subjects”? Finally, what does it mean that metaphysic reaches its own finality in and as modern techné, not only technology to be sure, but the Cartesian constitution of philosophy and subjectivity as the kernel of modern thinking? Let me proceed then according to my plan.

* * * * *

Reiner Schürmann is a consistent thinker. Besides a series of articles that have been incorporated into his main books -or are waiting for a critical edition, we can consider five relevant books: his memories (Les Origins 1976); Wondering Joy (1978); Heidegger. On Being and Acting. From Principles to Anarchy (1982), his posthumously published Broken Hegemonies (1996), and the recently published volume entitled On Heidegger’s Being and Time (2008), which corresponds to an unfinished manuscript on Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit and two complementary pieces by Simon Critchley that attempt to “en-frame” Schürmann’s interpretation of Heidegger’s “main” book.

It is a fact, therefore, that the main reference in his works is Martin Heidegger. But, it wouldn’t be fair to reduce Schürmann to the condition of a “Heideggerian scholar”, even if he might be one of the most important Heideggerians of the 20th century. His engagement with western philosophy moves from Aristotle to Aquinas, from Meister Eckhart to Luther, From Plotinus to Schelling, from German Idealism to Heidegger, and from Nietzsche to Foucault, Derrida, and Hanna Arendt. From his first publication to Broken Hegemonies, we perceive a double movement of deepening and expansion of his particular understanding of philosophy as an epochal organization of the history of being, where a “philosophical epoch” is organized around a series of first principles that work as nomic injunctions or hegemonic configurations of meaning, articulated by a fantasmatic referent (The One, Nature, Consciousness). Most important than these historical-transcendental referents is the very mechanics associated to the hegemonic articulation of meaning which reduces the history of being to a sort of “logic of recognition” that brings to presence the heterogeneity of being through the hermeneutical and normative force of those referents. For Schürmann, the force of the referents consist in their ability to give sense, to give reason if you like, to a particular historical reality; but this donation is also a translation of the diversity -even, the radical heterogeneity- of being to the principial economy that norms such an epoch. This is the force of the principle of reason, and defines the labor of professional philosophy. But here lays also the tragic component of philosophy, which is the sacrifice of the singularity of what it is to the condition of “a case”, that is to say, the conversion of the singular to the particular that is already meaningful thanks to its constitutive relationship with the universal. In fact, this universal is no other thing than the process of universalization of the nomic injunction that articulates the hegemonic order of an epoch.

In this context, Schürmann’s confrontation with the philosophical tradition is in tone with the Heideggerian task of destruction of metaphysics. His particular destruction then moves in the following way: first, identifying the principles articulating a given epochality or moment in the history of being, say, the principles that reduce being (its singularity) to a problem of meaning and knowledge (to the relationship between particular and universal). Second, understanding the way these principles work as productive devices that give language to that epoch (in a way, these referents or fantasms work in Schürmann as the Kantian categories[2]). Third, identifying the way in which professional philosophical discourses work as translations and adjustments of the diversity of the sensible experience, the world (facticity and thought), to the normative configuration donated by the principles (the philosopher, and Schürmann means the professional philosopher, brings to the fore the principles as referents that enable the rationality of the real, its legibility). In this sense, the work of the professional philosopher is not just the corroboration of the hermeneutical force of the principles, but also, and critically, the adjustment of reality to those principles. Heidegger’s destruction of metaphysics becomes in Schürmann a crucial interrogation of philosophy as a professional practice of power, the power of a “donation” that is always a “reduction” of being to “meaning”.

Accordingly, his understanding of destruction or deconstruction (Abbau, and he also tends to translate it as deconstruction over dismantling) implies a new task for thinking, or if you want, a new tension between philosophy and thinking (as a practical activity anarchically articulated around the constellation of being). To put it in other words (and keeping in mind Heidegger’s 1966 piece entitled “The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking”), if the task of thinking is the deconstruction of principial economies that capture normatively the being of be-ing, in order to access a sort of releasement of “being without a why”, this thinking is not concerned with the history of thought or with the meaning of that history, neither with a critical engagement or with an exegetical reading of the main texts of the “tradition”. On the contrary, thinking thinks being, and being is not an entity, neither the first nor the more important referent, but a constellation of “presencing” that unconceals or discloses itself in our confrontation with the “world” (in effect, Schürmann’s destruction leads to a topology of being)[3]. Thus, the world as the constellation of being does not point toward a hidden structure, a final reason, a secret teleology, but to its anarchic presencing to Dasein. The task of thinking therefore is not the “clarification” of Dasein’s existential conditions to access the transcendental site of a rational subjectivity (the line that goes from Descartes to Hegel, and from Kant to Husserl), and this would be the difference between the phenomenological epoché and the destructive epoché, if we might put it this way. In Schürmann the epoché opens to an-arché and this an-arché interrupts the pros hen as a distinctive philosophical operation. This is possible, of course, because Schürmann reads the Heideggerian epoché as a sort of inversion of the Husserlian epoché, an inversion of the parenthesis that was meant, in the first case, as a suspension of the natural attitude. With that inversion, the parenthesis now suspends the philosophical subjectivity and its transcendental intuitions, freeing the world from the infinite tasks of the rational consciousness (translation and adjustment) and freeing thinking from the subject (transcendental consciousness).

In this sense, Schürmann dwells at the end of professional philosophy which task was, among others, the elucidation of the history of philosophical knowledge according to epochal principles. But to dwell at the end of philosophy is also to suspend its professional task (clarification), understanding that every new moment in the philosophical history of being produces, through a particular idiom, its own fantasmatic reverse. In fact, to dwell at this end is also to resist the temptation of transitioning to a new -most modern- language, to a new categorical institution, even if the transition is done in the name of Humanity (reason, justice, peace, etc.), as in Husserl’s self-appointed task.

This is, therefore, his question: what is to be done at the end of metaphysics? Which is not to be understood as a naïve question that takes for granted this end as an empirical phenomenon. The end of metaphysic is not a fact; it is, on the contrary, the historical moment in which the modern principles articulating the hegemonic order of thinking breaks away or, even better, withers away. This sort of exhaustion of the hermeneutical and normative force of the principles interrupts the ability of the philosophical discourse to reproduce ad infinitum its meaningful configuration, and opens up to anarchy as a new relationship with being. This is the moment when thinking topologically the pre-sencing of being leads to a sort of radicalization of Heidegger’s existential analytic, that is to say, to the analytic of the ultimate quasi-principles (among them, the principle of equivalence).[4]

On the other hand, before addressing the complex status of this anarchy, it would be important to understand Schürmann’s project as a very idiosyncratic confrontation with metaphysics that cannot be reduce to Heidegger’s destruction, Nietzsche’s genealogy or Foucault’s archeology. Schürmann himself makes clear his resistance to the general endorsement Derrida’s deconstruction has received in France and elsewhere, and of course, this is already a big problem we need to address at some extent one day, particularly because of their (Schürmann and Derrida’s) different relationship to Heidegger and to Husserl. However, for now let me just quote him briefly here:


To deconstruct hegemonic fantasms, one cannot trust in interpretative throws of the dice, nor let this be produced by a fortuitous collision of signifier and significance, nor attack the texts from their margins. It is necessary to go straight into the ticket-to the theses upon which a text as well as an epoch rest, theses that get themselves twisted up as soon as they are declared to be legislative. (BH 15)


Instead of entertaining oneself by playing with the flexibility of the signifiers, with the polysemy of the text, the archi-writing and the trace of meaning in the a-grammatical order of history, Schürmann proposes to assume the almost impossible task of deconstructing the hegemonic organization of metaphysic as history of thought. And right here one might wonder up to what point this hegemonic configuration is, itself, already a fantasmatic insemination necessary to trigger the (his) task of thinking. I am not only thinking the difference between différance and hegemony, between the fantasmatic referent and the specter (as an incalculable or excessive remainder of presence), but also the way in which the hegemonic configuration of metaphysic could be read as a retro-projection done form the modern ontological anarchy as a strategy to justify a historical-transcendental hypothesis about the realization of metaphysics (after all, what this realization implies is something we still need to interrogate). This “realization”, not a vulgar teleology to be sure, however, imposes itself as a particular economy of reading, a particular reading of the tradition, the texts of the tradition, emphasizing in them the principial articulation of meaning (“the ticket-to the theses upon which a text as well as an epoch rest”) and not what we might call the heterogeneous play of signification dwelling at the absent center of every text. For this heterogeneity complicates the principial organization of meaning, bringing to the fore the counter-forces and resistances that are always working through the text and its different interpretations. These resistances distort the conventional identification of the text and the principles, perverting the philosopher’s “donation” of meaning while opening the texts to another donation, to another an-economic economy, which does not take place in the continuum temporality of the tradition, neither within the margins of professional philosophy.[5]

Let me dwell here for one more minute. The hegemonic articulation of metaphysic as practiced by Schürmann would be itself nothing else than a reading enabled by the post-hegemonic condition of anarchy. But, if the texts themselves are always something else than just the economy of principles that articulates them, if the texts present resistance to the main law of interpretation that articulate them, wouldn’t this then imply that post-hegemony is nothing else than an a hypothesis formulated to control, to conjure, to exorcise another phantasm in Schürmann himself, the specter of différance?

To be sure, I am not claiming that philosophy is an open-ended battle of interpretation, a battle that implies leaders and generals, caudillos and pastors of being, since this is, precisely, the history of metaphysic from which Schürmann, through Heidegger, wants to depart. But, what I am questioning is the very relationship between the finality, the realization of metaphysics, its temporal status, and the notion of “post-hegemony” that produce the idea of an “after” hegemony. I would even dare to say that the way out of this problem lays in the problematization of the question of anarchy and its relationship to techné. Since it is in the technical (not only the technological) subsumption of life where we also find its disarticulation from principles. Technic as the realization of metaphysic already contain an indomitable anarchy. Therefore, when Schürmann reads the tradition, there is always a double register, a double reading: one pointing towards the way in which principles work through the texts, enabling them, giving them language; the other reading, performed from anarchy, always reads the suffering of the texts, the way the principles extort and conjure texts and thoughts according to their laws of constitution and interpretation. If destruktion’s positive aspect is always more important than its negative one, then in Schürmann’s double register what matters most is not the critique of the principial economy that works as an hegemonic articulation of metaphysics, but the releasement of that reading into a Gelassenheit or serenidad, which implies a relation to being other than the metaphysical (a being without a why).

Clearly, I have just presented this problem without giving a convincing solution, but I did so on purpose, since what matters for me now is showing how the reading of the so-called tradition is already a crucial issue in Schürmann’s works. This leads me to my second point, his reading of Heidegger.

* * * * *

Of course, his reversed reading of Heidegger is totally consistent with his reading of the whole philosophical tradition. But not just consistent, it is a distinctive characteristic of his operation. In fact, one could organize a reading of Schürmann in the same way, and more than one of his colleagues have done so. It does not matter, what actually matters for me here is what I would call a prismatic reading of his works, a reading articulated in three main centers or circles from which it disseminates everywhere. 1) His reading of Being and Time (On Heidegger’s Being and Time). 2) His reading of Heidegger’s oeuvre (Heidegger. On Being and Acting). 3) His Heideggerian reading of the western metaphysic (Wondering Joy, Broken Hegemonies). Whether you move from the general to the specific contents of his works, or from the punctual to the widest reach of his elaborations, the circles seem to overlap each other. At the same time, one should be attentive to the decisions enabling such readings, since Schürmann is not an exegete neither a historian of philosophy. In this sense, he brings to the fore a new relation with the tradition, from Aristotle to Hanna Arendt, a relation expurgated from lineal narratives and away form the idea of progress. For the sake of time, I will contain myself here with making three points regarding his reading of Heidegger. Regardless, it should be clear that when Schürmann interrogates the tradition of western philosophy he is not just reading it in reverse, but he is also bringing the whole tradition to a place in which the conventional or “vulgar” conception of temporality is suspended. Reading Heidegger in that way is like reading the eventful condition of thinking once this thinking reappears, de-articulated or re-activated, beyond the normative nomos of the professional history of philosophy, in a time other than the time of metaphysics.

I have used this term, re-activation, intentionally, to refer to Schürmann’s emphatic break with a transcendental phenomenology and with the infinite task of a rational subjectivity that is able to decipher the sense of the world ad infinitum. This is the insuperable distinction between his reading and Simon Critchley’s reading of Heidegger. For Schürmann Heidegger parted waters with Edmund Husserl by the publication of Being and Time, since his existential analytic, more than just a continuation of Husserl’s phenomenology, is rather a radical reorientation of philosophy. This is a reorientation that goes from phenomenological investigation to what he calls a fundamental ontology -fundamental in the sense of the founding economy of principles and not in the sense of the classical question about the fundament. Thus, it is this displacement from the infinite task of the transcendental subjectivity (from Descartes and Kant to Husserl) that Schürmann emphasizes in Heidegger’s finitude, a finitude that makes possible to move from the question of being to the question about the meaning (truth) of being, where the meaning of being not longer lays with the subject’s critical abilities. At this point Schürmann introduces the idea of an ontology constituted by a historical modality, a modality of presencing that cannot be reduced to transcendental syntheses and subjective operations. Obviously, Schürmann is able to read Being and Time in this way because of his emphasis on the turn and the radical reorganization of Heidegger’s work after Being and Time.[6] In other words, Schürmann somehow is de-emphasizing the influence that Husserl, the neo-Kantism and historicism has had on Heidegger in the 1920s. (I would just add here the need to consider Derrida’s initial reading of Husserl as a matter of interest for our discussion as well as his 1964-65 seminar in which ontology itself withers away when confronted with the question of being and history in Heidegger, something that will take us too much time now).

Thanks to all of this, Being and Time does not appear as a failed attempt to break away from metaphysics, an attempt that Heidegger would later abandon in the name of The poem of Being, On the contrary, this idiosyncratic reading makes it possible to understand the condition of that seminal book (Being and Time) not by the logic of the evolution and development, but as a book which questions would be ever present in Heidegger’s thoughts. Of course, what is at stake here is the status of the “meaning” of Dasein’s existence. Not the meaning in itself, but its status, whether it comes from the infinite task of phenomenology or, alternatively, from the worldly confrontation of Dasein with the historical conditions defining its existence (and one should keep in mind here the influence of Dilthey’s elaborations on historicity as well as Heidegger’s reading of Aristotle’s “factical hermeneutics”)

In this sense, the whole metaphysical tradition appears as a permanent attempt to reduce the radical historicity of being to a normative injunction emanated from the principles that organize the epochs of being’s history. It is a history that is subsumed to an ongoing spacialization of temporality that would have reached its realization in the modern age. What this realization means is precisely the point here, since the full spacialization of temporality is also the moment in which the very principial economy that organizes metaphysics seems to wither away. The epoch of the realization of metaphysics, the age of the image of the world, is not the epoch of its overcoming in a naive, analytical way, but it is the epoch in which that very epochality enters into a radical crisis, a demonic disjunction between the granted relationship of theory and practice. Actually, the demonic crisis of principles triggers a sort of anarchy, and this anarchy is not a state that happens at the end of metaphysics, but something that happens to the whole history of being, bringing it to presence in an way other than the metaphysics of presence. Of course, we are talking about a presence that is not the illusory aspiration for plenitude, but a presence (as we say, beyond the metaphysics of presence) in which the world, the being of the world, happens without a reason, without a why. By the same token, this demonic crisis, this interregnum, does not point towards a new economy of principles, a sort of reconfiguration of an even better hegemony, attuned to the modern “being”; on the contrary, this demonic crisis is the very suspension of the transitional logic that put together the history of being as an evolving process. The demonic condition of history is a topology of radical immanence where there are no gods or salvation; a topology that appears as a concern with the space beyond the metaphysical spacialization of temporality and as the dissolution (withering) of any ontology (even the object oriented, foam-like, and the plastic ontologies of contemporary thought).

This is certainly a delicate moment, as it has already been argued, since with this reading Schürmann is proposing a historicized version of the ontological difference, a version in which the ontological status of anarchy does not seem to be sound to understand the political. Is Schürmann actually supporting political anarchy? What is the status of the auto-nomos injunction at the end of metaphysics? Let me just say that I am not concerned with asking from Schürmann what has been infinitely demanded form Heidegger, an ethic that regulates being in the world. My concern rests in the way in which this ontico-ontological difference tends to disappears as the very “destruktion” of the principial economy feeding metaphysics as onto-theology gives its place to the question of being as a question of history (historicity). Certainly, this withering away of principles, this exhaustion of the philosophy of history, relates itself to the question of the political in a non-normative way. I am thinking here in what Alberto Moreiras has called post-hegemonic democracy and, in what John Krummel elaborates when comparing Schürmann’s anarchic ontology and Cornelius Castoriadis’s instituting imagination. I would just add that here lays the relevance of Aristotle and the particular emphasis Schürmann places on the Physic rather than on the Metaphysics. But, I am in no condition to further elaborate this point here, as it requires a confrontation with the nomos, its autonomy and its heteronomy, a radical problematization of sovereignty’s double bind. In a way, this is the task of infrapolitical deconstruction or, at least, this is the way this task appeals to me.

In other words, because of this double bind, sovereignty is not something we can break away from in a definitive way, as if we were talking about an institutional order, a juridical discourse. The suspension of sovereignty is not the result of a methodological operation, a willing action, a step into the long way of endless criticism. There is, to be sure, the factual (American) suspension of sovereignty, the configuration of a world order that obliterates the modern institutions and discourses of sovereignty, but sovereignty itself is always something else than those institutions and discourses. The suspension of the factual suspension of sovereignty leads us to dwell in its double bind as a condition of possibility to interrogate politics after the disjunction between theory and practice, when philosophy of history withers away, opening the present to a radical contingency, a contingency that is not the categorical inversion of necessity, but a new relation to being and time, to the world. A time à venir, if you like, besides the protests Schürmann himself could and/or would have voiced.

This is what makes of his work something relevant for our infrapolitical interrogation, and my goal today was only to give a general and tentative idea of a thinking that we still need to keep close to us. Thank you very much.


[1] This is a talk presented at the conference “No Peace Beyond the Line: On Infrapolitical An-Archy. The Work of Reiner Schürmann.” Organized by Alberto Moreiras, at the University of Texas A&M January 11-12, 2016. My gratitude to him and to his great students, as usual.

[2] We should consider, however, that this is just an analogy since in Kant those categories “mediate” between the noumena and the phenomena, producing the synthesis of knowledge. In Schürmann the referents are constitutive or configurative of the real, but do not respond to a transcendental eschematism, which is already a hypothesis, a subjective hypothesis introduced by Kant. The same thing should be said regarding Structuralism and Foucault’s epistemes, even if there are some similarities, Schürmann claims that they refer to a particular region of being and not to being as a permanent tension between concealment and unconcealment.

[3] What is the relationship between this “presencing” and the “metaphysics of presence” once the very structuration of metaphysics as history of being and as an ongoing and evolving process articulated by he succession of different ephocalities has been deconstructed? In other words, how Schürmann’s releasement from being as meaning makes possible to reinstate the question of historicity? Sure we will need to come back to this later.

[4] This is, in other words, the historical modulation of the ontological difference that is problematic in Schürmann’s work. Not only the question of the ontic status of this ontological anarchy is what matters here, but also the very articulation of the ontic-ontological question and the problem of the co-belonging of being and its multiple “worldly” manifestations. If this anarchy were to be read only at the ontological level, we would be re-introducing an ontological hierarchy even if only to break away with it. But, if ontology as first philosophy is deconstructed (which was the task of destruktion), then the homologation of anarchy and politics needs more elaboration. This is attested by the tension between Lefort-Castoriadis-Abensour’s savage democracy and the idea of an anarchic politics one could read in Schürmann, but this is also the tension between biopolitics (as a politics still articulated around the “given” condition of life and the self-presencing of power) and infrapolitics.

[5] Wouldn’t this be the defining relationship deconstruction establishes with the tradition and its texts? Not an exegetical or critical reading, neither a reading in which the text becomes monumentalized and homogenized according to a principial economy, since in each text, in each occasion of reading, a singular an-economy of forces, resistances, significations and counter-significations would always take place. Deconstruction seems to differ, and to defer, from the principial reading of the tradition while also differs and defers from “disciplinary” criticism (from the conversion of deconstruction itself in a practice of liturgical criticism). Nonetheless, Schürmann’s critique of the principial economy of metaphysics and deconstruction seem to converge at the same post-hegemonic (or an-hegemonic) topology, which is, of course, something that we need to explore to a greater extent.

[6] I would dare to say that for him Heidegger’s turn (die Kehre) is not associated with a particular moment or text, but is something that, in his reversed reading of the Heidegger’s oeuvre seems to be always taking place, right after the mid-1930. This explains the emphasis and the contrast Schürmann attempts to do in regard with the first reception of Heidegger in America, headed by William J. Richardson and his seminal book, Heidegger: Through Phenomenology to Thought (1974).


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